The 1999 Major League Umpires Association mass resignation was a labor tactic used by the Major League Umpires Association (MLUA) against Major League Baseball (MLB) in 1999. Unable to strike because they had a labor agreement in place at the time, more than 50 umpires resigned in an attempt to force negotiations with MLB for a new labor agreement. However, MLB accepted the resignations of 22 umpires and hired new ones. The union membership became fractured on the issue, and 42 of the umpires tried to rescind their earlier action, but the MLUA was unable to retain the jobs of the 22 umpires whose resignations were accepted. The incident led to the decertification of the MLUA and the formation of a new union, the World Umpires Association (WUA).
Entering the 1999 MLB season, the union was dealing with disagreements with MLB on a variety of issues. The league sought to make it easier to replace umpires, and proposed a restructuring of the umpiring system; instead of MLUA members answering to the American and National Leagues, MLB wanted them under the control of the commissioner. In addition, MLB wanted changes in the strike zone that umpires called during games, which the umpires and MLUA leadership objected to. The MLUA also had a complaint against the Major League Baseball Players Association, when it released a survey of players, which included umpire ratings, publicly. During the season, there were numerous disputes between umpires and MLB owners. One involved Tom Hallion, who was suspended for three days by NL president Leonard Coleman after bumping a player.
On July 14, the umpires held a meeting in Philadelphia. There, they held a vote proposing a strike, which passed; however, a collective bargaining agreement was still in place. With that in mind, the union decided on a different course of action: a mass resignation by umpires. Richie Phillips, the MULA's leader, announced on July 15 that 57 umpires would resign, effective September 2. According to umpire Dave Phillips, the resignations were intended to force negotiations with MLB to gain a new contract, effective at the start of 2000. Richie Phillips added that MULA members stood to gain about $15 million of severance pay. The union intended to have the leagues negotiate in the future with a newly formed corporation, to be created after the mass resignation occurred.
Out of the 68 MLB umpires, all but two were members of the MULA. Fifty-four of them sent letters of resignation to the two leagues. Within a week, several of the umpires moved to rescind their earlier actions. One of them, Dave Phillips, said that "Most people in that room thought they (the resignation letters) were going to be signed but not sent." He said that the umpires thought they could rescind any time before September 2, which was not the case. In response, Richie Phillips called his views "nonsense". The union filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on July 26, seeking to allow withdrawals. One day later, the MLUA's request for a temporary restraining order was turned down by judge Edmund V. Ludwig. Later that day, the 42 umpires whose resignations were still active rescinded as a group.
The leagues accepted the resignations of 13 umpires from the National League and 9 from the American League, hiring replacements from the minor leagues. On August 3, the union filed unfair labor practice charges against MLB with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). A week later, the MLUA dropped the suit it had filed in federal court in July. The president of the MLUA, Jerry Crawford, left the prospect of a strike open. In response, the presidents of the two leagues threatened to fire any umpire who took part in a strike.
On August 27, the MULA requested arbitration from the American Arbitration Association, but both leagues turned it down. The MULA then returned to U.S. District Court three days later, in hopes of obtaining an injunction against the leagues' acceptances of the resignations. Instead of the quick ruling the union was seeking, judge Curtis Joyner desired negotiations between the sides, which he oversaw. On September 1, the parties agreed on a severance package, which confirmed the loss of the 22 umpires' jobs. The MLUA pledged not to strike in the agreement.
A group of remaining umpires was critical of the mass resignation and moved for the creation of a new union and decertification of the MLUA in October; the Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee, the name the group went by, primarily consisted of American League umpires. The Organizing Committee's main motivation was to force out Richie Phillips. Joe Brinkman and John Hirschbeck publicly supported the idea of a new union with different leadership; Brinkman said, "There's no room for Richie Phillips in this new organization." Phillips, along with his backers, criticized the umpires seeking his ouster, saying they were at fault for what happened in July.
Ballots were sent to all umpires in early November, allowing the umpires to vote on whether they wanted the MLUA or a replacement union to represent them. Those whose resignations had been accepted were sent ballots in the decertification election, as were the new hires. On November 30, the NLRB tallied the votes and revealed that the Organizing Committee had garnered 57 votes, as opposed to 35 for the MULA. The MULA appealed to the NLRB, but a hearing officer upheld the results on January 21. One final appeal was issued by the MULA, but a three-person NLRB panel rejected it in February, and certified the WUA as the umpires' new union.
Although the MLUA was no longer representing active umpires, it still did so for the 22 who lost their jobs. In negotiations for a new labor agreement, which was signed in September 2000, the MULA turned down an offer from MLB owners that would have seen 13 umpires brought back. An arbitrator ordered in December 2001 that nine of the twenty-two umpires be reinstated, and MLB reached an agreement to do so in February 2002; four of the umpires retired with back pay. By late 2004, half of the terminated umpires were working again in MLB.